It took only 28 seconds for the Newcastle United house of cards to come crashing down at the Etihad on Saturday. While John Carver does more and more to prove there is no defensible way for Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley to continue with him as head coach into the 2015-16 Premier League season, there are larger systemic issues that he could never have influenced in a way to salvage Saturday's match in any way. Once that penalty was called on 28 seconds, the rest of the script for that day was written. After going 2-0 down ten minutes later and 3-0 nine minutes after that, the only suspense in the match was "How many do City want?" Checks were being made to see what the record Premier League defeat stood at (9-0, Manchester United over Ipswich Town) as well as NUFC's record defeat (9-0 to Burton Wanderers in 1895).
This match did not hinge on some nebulous idea lost with the departure of Alan Pardew. From an outsider's perspective that narrative is so easy. If you have watched Pardew-era Newcastle United, however, you know that the fifth place season upon which pro-Pardew pundits will hang their hats was an aberration, born of unsustainable combinations of factors. Although that edition of Newcastle defended like their hair was on fire, blocking insane numbers of shots (yet still ending the season with a paltry +5 GD... in 5th place...), relying on "fighting spirit" and once-in-a-lifetime goalscoring form from two different players. Little microcosms of the 2011-12 form would find their way into individual seasons (usually in November) and provide Pardew and the PPPs hardware and results to point at to show that Newcastle fans were dead wrong for wanting the man who outside of those successful months presided over what could largely be considered to be relegation-level form. November 2014 allows people to forget that up to that point, Newcastle United had taken the fewest points in calendar year 2014 of any team in the entire football league.
In three years since that wonderful season (remember that feeling as pundits insisted that Newcastle would start their slide back down the table just any match now?) that "fighting spirit" never made its way back into the United squad. It was exactly that lack of fighting spirit that wrote the script for the last 89 minutes and 32 seconds of the match against Manchester City. Not a single person would have caught their self allowing their mind to wander back to the Greatest Comeback In Premier League History by the 2010-11 squad v. Arsenal when Pardew was still fresh at the helm. Say what you will about that squad that Chris Hughton brought back up from the Championship and was on the way to establishing in the Premier League at the same level (at least) that Alan Pardew would ultimately achieve on the balance of his time on Tyneside, but that squad were fighters. Strong personalities and leadership qualities players such as Joey Barton or Kevin Nolan possessed were shipped out post-haste following Premier League survival. It was the beginnings of a symptom that expressed itself yet again at the Etihad. Newcastle United are a team that have had its playing soul squeezed out of it over a period of years.
Working Class John Carver™ was meant to be the solution to that. Changes were made at the training ground and Carver was going to be his own man, forsaking the ideas that failed Alan Pardew prior to his departure. In fact, not only has John Carver failed to gain the results to distinguish himself, he has done everything but distance himself from the on-pitch performances produced by Pardew. It could be argued that the way in which Newcastle's "tactics" against City devolved are the ultimate expression of the lack of team fight or cohesion. Down 3-0, the attacking ideas employed by Carver's men came down to Moussa Sissoko trying to go 1-v-11 and the odd Ayoze Perez dribble usually on the wing and nowhere close to a goal scoring area. For the match, Newcastle outnumbered City in attempted take-ons by 24-14 as City held a 57%-43% edge in possession. Newcastle United were ineffectual in the air, losing 13 of 14 aerial duels. Even still, they pumped 18 crosses into the City box while connecting on just 1.
The reality of the situation is that lessons have not been learned. He still wants to lump the ball to the non-existent prototypical number 9 that we have in the squad just like Alan Pardew did. He still wants to play the fullbacks as hybrid wing-backs just like Alan Pardew did. He still manages to bungle the pivot/CB interaction, exposing Mike Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini to the diagonal runs between them that unlock our defense Every. Single. Time. Just like Alan Pardew did. At the end of the day, in spite of all his bluster, all of his insisting that he was not Alan Pardew... the proof is in the pudding. And the proof indicates that in spite of his Geordie roots and working class upbringing, he is not the man to take this club forward. He has shown no signs of forging a cohesive unit that would even approach being the sum of its parts, let alone becoming more than that sum.
The head coach position at Newcastle United will be a unique challenge for as long as Mike Ashley owns the club and Lee Charnley brings in the finest from Graham Carr's highly recommended list. What is clear, however, is that the head coach needs to be someone with enough tactical sophistication to be able to modify his ideas to fit the players he will have at his disposal. The fractured nature of the squad and their psyche would suggest that a coach with some newer ideas about player health or development may be the most rational way forward. Whatever the long term holds, what is clear is that John Carver is Alan Pardew and is wrong for Newcastle United.